Ranking Common’s Best Albums

In just a couple of weeks, Common is set to drop Black America Again – an album that promises to take a much-needed look at our country’s simmering racial tension.

It’s an album America needs right now. And if you look at Common’s track record, he’s the perfect messenger.

For nearly 25 years, Common has provided biting social commentary in the form of song – delivering needed truths about life, love, faith, politics and how they all intersect with the black experience.

Before Com gives us his newest project, let’s look back at his 10 solo projects, ranking them from weakest to strongest. The order was determined by song quality, album cohesiveness, production and, of course, historical impact.

Common’s career is legendary. Here are the albums that put him on the map.


10. Universal Mind Control (2008)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: Um, yeah. This one. I’ve long said that every great artist is allowed to have one dud on their resume and even the mighty Common couldn’t escape that reality. UMC has some decent production from The Neptunes, but otherwise this was a bit of a sonic mess.

Forgotten favorites: “Gladiator,” “Inhale”


9. Electric Circus (2002)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: Remember that time Common joined Blue Man Group? Yeah, Common’s fifth effort was met with VERY mixed reviews – some fans praised its innovation, others were completely turned off by its outright weirdness. The result was a daring but slightly unfocused effort.

Forgotten favorites: “Aquarius,” “Heaven Somewhere”


8. Nobody’s Smiling (2014)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: Common’s most recent work – a concept album on the plight of inner-city Chicago – certainly had good intentions and a few very strong tracks. But the album’s brief running time, and a couple of ill-advised features, keep it from achieving its full potential. It’s good, just not the greatness we’ve come to know and expect.

Forgotten favorites: “Hustle Harder,” “Speak My Piece,” “Rewind That”


7. Can I Borrow a Dollar? (1992)

Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: This is where it all began. Com’s debut flew under the radar in the early ’90s, overshadowed by the glut of legit classic hip-hop releases. But there’s no reason to keep sleeping. No ID’s jazzy production is the album’s highlight, remaining a hallmark nearly 25 years later. Common showed lots of promise here, and it didn’t take him long to deliver on it.

Forgotten favorites: “Soul by the Pound,” “Breaker 1/9,” “Charms Alarm”


6. One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Common’s third album saw him slightly branch away from longtime contributor No ID, a move that didn’t sit well with many longtime fans. The change in direction was a good look though – the album features more conventional sounds of the era, helping to diversify Com’s flow.

Forgotten favorites: “Retrospect for Life,” “All Night Long,” “G.O.D.”


5. Finding Forever (2007)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Finding Forever isn’t often mentioned when critics debate Common’s best works but it should be. Coming off the heels of 2005’s stellar Be, Finding Forever is unquestionably that album’s spiritual successor, exploring many of the same themes and incorporating similar soulful soundscapes. The similarities work against it at times – occasionally coming off like a lesser version of its predecessor – but it’s still a noteworthy release.

Forgotten favorites: “Drivin’ Me Wild, “U, Black Maybe,” “The Game”


4. The Dreamer/The Believer (2011)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (read our review here)

Edd said: Unquestionably, this is the most overlooked gem in Common’s discography. No ID returned to provide the score and didn’t disappoint, proving that their chemistry is indeed timeless. Lyrically, Common’s bars were the sharpest they’ve been in years – from optimistic introspection of “Blue Sky” to the battle-tested fury of “Sweet.” The lack of a strong single hurt the album’s notoriety, but as a full body of work, this one was hard to top.

Forgotten favorites: “Ghetto Dreams,” “Windows,” “Raw (How You Like It)”


3. Resurrection (1994)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Now we reach the top tier of Common’s trinity. Resurrection was the album that launched Common from promising newcomer to critical force of nature. Com’s reflections on Chicago life were brilliant, using beautifully crafted metaphors (“I Used to Love H.E.R”) and witty wordplay (“Book of Life”) to take his storytelling to the next level. It falls slightly short of reaching the heights of Common’s elite albums but Resurrection is a near-90s classic.

Forgotten favorites: “Book of Life,” “Chapter 13 (Rich Man vs Poor Man),” “Thisisme”


2. Be (2005)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: More than a decade after its release, Be is arguably Common’s most well-known and beloved release. Be is the personification of Chicago itself – from the grittiness of “The Corner” to the soaring optimism of closer “It’s Your World,” the city is encapsulated in those 11 unforgettable tracks. The album’s production steals the show here – Kanye West is at his peak behind the boards. Be isn’t flawless (the second half wavers just a bit) but it’s deserving of its endless praise.

Forgotten favorites: “They Say,” “Faithful,” “Love Is…”


1. Like Water for Chocolate (2000)

Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Real talk: It’s nearly impossible to decide which of Common’s top two albums is the better work. Don’t believe me? Check out the debate on my Facebook page. There is no clear-cut consensus. Be is better produced; Like Water for Chocolate boasts tighter lyrics and concepts. But I think Like Water for Chocolate gets the edge for this slight reason – Be is celebrated as the ultimate partnership between Kanye and Common, but Like Water for Chocolate is ALL Common. Don’t get me wrong, much of this album’s success is due to an all-star array of producers (J Dilla specifically knocks it out the park) but Common and his hard-hitting yet heartfelt wordplay are always the showcase.  Like Water for Chocolate is the quintessential Common album, and one of hip-hop’s greatest treasures.

Forgotten favorites: “The 6th Sense,” “Funky For You,” “Payback is a Grandmother”

Do you think Be is better than Like Water for Chocolate? And what’s your favorite Common album? Speak out below.


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